Montessori Guide For 1 to 3 Year Old Toddlers
During the second year of life, a toddler’s need for independence starts to become obvious. At this point, children start to walk well, and they wish to explore their environment on their own. They no longer want to spend the whole day in their mother’s arms: the world has become too interesting for that. Their longing for freedom can be so great that we sometimes forget they were little babies not so long ago, and they still need us right next to them in order to feel secure while they explore their surroundings.
At home, this is the last moment to make sure you have taken the necessary safety measures to toddler-proof the house.
The spaces in the home should provide:
- Accessibility: the child is a member of the family and, as such, should be able to use all the rooms without help (kitchen, bedroom, bathroom…)
- Order and simplicity: they are fundamental to achieve peace and internal order, which in turn produce the necessary concentration to learn new concepts.
- Appropriate materials: during the second year of life we can begin to present the first sensory and everyday life Montessori materials, following each child’s own pace.
Many Montessori activities just happen naturally while we go about our ordinary daily tasks. Some examples are:
- Learning to eat without help,
- Learning to get dressed,
- Washing and taking care of themselves independently…
And then there are others which can be set up with very little effort on our part, such as:
- Opening and closing different types of locks and lids,
- Playing with bread dough, play dough or other non-toxic types of modelling clay,
- Sorting objects by colour or shape,
- Assembling puzzles (three or four pieces will be enough),
- Drawing with crayons, finger paints or markers…
Children from 24 to 36 months
During the third year of life, we can notice a further increase in coordination, concentration, fine motor and gross motor skills, and planning capacity. Children’s vocabulary increases and they can make themselves understood verbally at most times.
Their ability to dress, eat and wash themselves gets better, and we can entrust them with simple tasks and responsibilities, which they will still have to perform under our supervision, such as watering a plant, feeding a pet…
At this age, sensory and daily life activities remain the most popular. This is the ideal time to introduce the concepts of quantity and repetition of patterns.
The desire for independence grows even more, causing what is known as the "terrible twos" and the famous temper tantrums, whose causes can be varied and include: frustration at not being able to perform a certain activity, difficulty to express themselves, tiredness, and a breach of their routine.
The best way to deal with this beautiful but demanding stage is to follow the child and observe their needs so that we can anticipate temper tantrums before they occur.
For example, if we take a child shopping at the time he should be having lunch or taking a nap, we can almost be sure that he will suffer a temper tantrum in the middle of the store because his usual rhythms of resting and feeding will not have been respected.
Children thrive on routine, and they desperately need it in order to comprehend the ever-changing world around them. In many cases, tantrums happen because the order of things as the child knows it has changed, for example:
- Milk was not served in the yellow cup, just like every day,
- Grandpa took her to the nursery instead of mum, and on top of that, they didn’t take the same path as every day,
- Dad was busy and asked him to play with his toys after his bath, instead of reading a story together as they usually do.
For us, adults, this kind of problems may seem petty details, compared to the "real" concerns we have to deal with during our day-to-day. It seems absurd to waste time submitting to such caprices. Who cares whether the milk is in the green cup or in the pink one? Milk is just milk! Many parents think that, by accepting such behavior, they would be spoiling their child.
However, for a child this age, routines and order are absolutely critical. It is not a matter of whim: what children perceive is an unmet vital need. Let’s go back to the chapter in which we talked about the sensitive periods: at this age, the child is right in the middle of the sensitive period for order. The child needs routine, consistency and repetition. And as we already know, a child who is not allowed to follow the call of his inner teacher suffers from frustration, which he doesn’t really know how to express apart from breaking into a tantrum. Therefore, the best way to deal with tantrums is by foreseeing them and taking the necessary measures before they happen. Once they do happen, communication is key, but our goal is to minimize such occurrences as much as we can, by remembering children’s innate need for order.
In the following page you will find a series of activities suitable for children between one and three years, which are meant to support the sensitive periods typical of this period of life. As parents and guides, we must observe the child and decide which learning materials to prepare. Close observation of the child is the key for our Montessori efforts to succeed, because at home, unlike in a classroom, you probably will have neither time nor space to exhibit much more than two or three materials at the same time. If you notice that, despite having presented all the materials properly, your child doesn’t show interest in the activities you are offering (he never picks up the material on his own, or doesn’t concentrate for more than a few seconds), then it is best to find another subject to work on, or to modify the level of difficulty.